Pregnancy and childbirth are stressful enough without the added burden of a pandemic and the isolation of social distancing. The Macks Center for Jewish Education’s Belly Talk program has been providing expectant mothers with both advice on how to handle their pregnancies and a sense of community.
“Belly Talk was a virtual program during COVID where expectant moms came together via Zoom to discuss their pregnancies,” said Rebecca Brown, who gave birth in March to her second child, a boy named Lev.
In January, Brown, a senior development associate in women’s philanthropy at The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, joined a six-week- long Belly Talk group she’d heard about through word of mouth. The other three expectant mothers in her group were going through their first pregnancies, and all of the mothers-to-be were Jewish.
Brown’s group was led by Rachel Plotkin, a Pikesville resident and a family engagement specialist at CJE.
“Belly Talk is a program that I created to connect expectant parents to each other, mostly in a time when they weren’t having the connections that I think expectant parents needed,” Plotkin said. “We do a lot of family engagement in our department at the CJE. And I wanted to create a way for us to have a pipeline of families that start with us and go through as their children are getting older.
“And one of the ways I thought about doing that is kind of thinking about how we can connect with expectant parents, especially at a time when a lot of expectant parents couldn’t do a lot of the regular classes through the hospitals, and a lot of things were on Zoom,” Plotkin said.
Plotkin’s first cohort of the program began September 2020, she said. Brown’s group was the second cohort. A fourth, in-person cohort is currently being planned for Aug. 6.
Other professionals, such as doulas and medical specialists, also participated to provide guidance, Brown said.
Taking place over Zoom, topics of discussion in the group included questions related to pregnancy and postpartum, Jewish learning and spirituality relating to pregnancy, Jewish rituals like naming ceremonies and circumcisions and what all of that would look like in a virtual or hybrid world, Brown explained.
“When it came to a baby naming for a girl, or a circumcision for a boy, how do we make people feel included,” Brown said. “For all of us, we had family either in different parts of the country, and in my case different parts of the world, and so we wanted to make them feel included in the simcha, in the celebration.”
What’s more, the group provided Brown with an outlet for personal connection that social distancing had impeded.
“It was a way where I could meet other women who were expecting at the same or around the same time as I was,” Brown said. “We could share our journeys. We could impart wisdom on one another. We could ask questions in a safe space.”
While Brown is no longer technically part of the Belly Talk program, she said, she stays in contact with the other members of her former group, sharing pictures of their new children through a WhatsApp group.
“Through my participation, I have another handful of really close friends who are also now moms,” Brown said. “It was a really lovely experience for me during a really isolating time in the world.”